How did you first come to writing poetry? What is it about the form that resonates?
I came to writing poems when I was young. My maternal grandmother gave me a basic black lined journal for my birthday one year, when I was maybe fourteen or fifteen. It wasn’t at all fancy, that first journal, but it gave me a safe place to write poems. She knew that I loved to write, maybe even before I knew it. Those poems, in my teens, were dark and not at all well-crafted. I think this is because I hadn’t begun to read poetry on a regular basis, so I hadn’t studied the craft of it. It wasn’t until I was in second year at Laurentian University, doing an English degree, that I began to write more seriously and send poems out in hope of getting them published in journals.
Poetry resonates with me, and always has, because I see and understand the world through images. When I go for walks, or when I go swimming, I often find that my eyes are drawn to the beauty that exists in the natural world. Poetry isn’t the only genre that I’m drawn to, but it’s my first love. Even when I write a short story or a play, I find they’ve always got poetic foundations and stylings. For me, writing poetry is like breathing. It feels intuitive and deeply woven into who I am, and I’ve really not known any other way of being in the world.
How does a poem begin?
I will often just get a snippet of a line of poetry in my head. It could just be something as small as a few words or images all clustered together. They won’t be much on their own, but I know enough to write them down. Soon afterwards, other words join those first words and something starts to emerge. Every time it happens, that a phrase or line arrives in my mind, I’m amazed. If I started to think too much about it all—that creative process that gives birth to a poem—I might find it too overwhelming. And, really, I quite like that initial ‘magic part’ of the process—before you begin to shape, craft, write, and then revise a piece of work.
You’ve published multiple full-length poetry collections. Do you see your writing as a single, extended project, or a series of self-contained units?
Each book of poems that I’ve had published is different from the one(s) that came before it. I can look at braille on water (Penumbra Press, 2001) and remember where I was at—and what I was interested in writing about—in my late twenties. My most recent book of poems, These Wings (Pedlar Press, 2019), includes poems that reflect the questions I have about life in my mid to late forties. While each collection might be very different in tone and style, and they are, I can sit with all of them and see that there are common themes and questions that I’ve been wondering about for over twenty years now. I find that pretty fascinating, as a writer and thinker, and as a human being.
Have you a daily schedule by which you work, or are you working to fit this in between other activities?
I teach English part time at a secondary school, so I find time to write when I’m not teaching. I recently had a leave from formal teaching and, during that time, I found I wrote for about four hours a day. Being back in the classroom has meant that I’ve had to be sure to set aside time for my own writing. It’s a conscious carving out of time and space inside my head and life so that I can continue to purposefully create new work. Balancing teaching and writing is a juggling act, most definitely. Still, if you’re a writer, you know that you don’t have a choice. If you have a story to tell, then it needs to be told, in whichever genre best suits it.
What are your favourite print or online literary journals?
I’m a huge fan of online journals like Juniper, periodicities: a journalof poetry and poetics, The Temz Review, Cypress, The Quarantine Review, and Talking about strawberries all of the time. In terms of print journals, I’ve always loved Room, Prairie Fire, Grain, The Fiddlehead, and Riddle Fence. I love how these print journals have been around for decades, and that they carry a sense of gravitas with them, and that it’s just a lovely thing to sit and spend time with a paper copy of a literary journal and have a cup of tea on a Saturday afternoon.
Canadian literary journals are brilliant things, and the new online journals are really showing themselves to be rising stars in the firmament as they curate really great writing and literary reviews. I’m constantly impressed by the passionate commitment that the editors and volunteers have, just in terms of the vast amount of work that they do to promote the writing of Canadian authors. This is part of how, I think, we purposefully create and cultivate a literary community of supportive colleagues.
Who are some of the writers you are reading lately that most excite you?
Oh, I have such a list, and it will depend on which day you ask me this question as to how I answer it. I’ve just read Emma Donoghue’s The Pull of the Stars. I read it over about a six hour period, on a weekend away at a cottage in the woods next to the French River. I’ve also just read Jesse Thistle’s From the Ashes, which turned me inside out on so many levels. In terms of poetry, I read a lot of newly released poetry collections because I write a lot of poetry reviews. Right now, I’m diving into Ariel Gordon’s new collection, TreeTalk (At Bay Press, 2020), Adrienne Gruber’s Q&A (Book*hug, 2019), and Dorothy Mahoney’s Ceaseless Rain (Palimpsest Press, 2020).